The Marriage Lie

Chapter One

I awaken when a hand winds around my waist, pulling me head to heel against skin heated from sleep. I sigh and settle into my husband’s familiar form, fitting my backside into his front, soaking in his warmth. Will is a furnace when he sleeps, and I’ve always got some place on me that’s cold. This morning it’s my feet, and I wedge them between two warm calves.

“Your toes are freezing.” His voice rumbles in the darkened room, the sounds vibrating through me. On the other side of our bedroom curtains it’s not quite morning, that violet-tinged moment between night and day, still a good half hour or so before the alarm. “Were they hanging off the side of the bed or something?”

It’s barely April, and March hasn’t quite loosened its icy hold. For the past three days, leaden skies have been dumping rain, and a frigid wind has plummeted temperatures far below average. Meteorologists predict at least another week of this shivering, and Will is the only soul in Atlanta who welcomes the cold by throwing the windows wide. His internal thermostat is always set to blazing.

“It’s because you insist on sleeping in an igloo. I think all my extremities have frostbite.”

“Come here.” His fingers glide up my side, his hand pulling me even closer. “Let’s get you warm, then.”

We lie here for a while in comfortable silence, his arm snug around my middle, his chin in the crook of my shoulder. Will is sticky and damp from sleep, but I don’t care. These are the moments that I cherish the most, moments when our hearts and breaths are in sync. Moments as intimate as making love.

“You are my very favorite person on the planet,” he murmurs in my ear, and I smile. These are the words we’ve chosen instead of the more standard I love you, and to me they mean so much more. Every time they roll off his tongue they hit me like a promise. I like you the most, and I always will.

“You’re my very favorite person, too.”

My girlfriends assure me this won’t last forever, this connection I feel with my own husband. Any day now, they tell me, familiarity will fizzle my fire, and I will suddenly start noticing other men. I will stain my cheeks and gloss my lips for nameless, faceless strangers who are not my husband, and I will imagine them touching me in places only a husband should have access to. The seven-year itch, my girlfriends call it, and I can barely imagine such a thing, because today—seven years and a day—Will’s hand glides across my skin, and the only itch I feel is for him.

My eyelids flutter closed, his touch stirring up a tingling that says I’ll likely be late for work.

“Iris?” he whispers.

“Hmm?”

“I forgot to change the filters on the air conditioner.”

I open my eyes. “What?”

“I said, I forgot to change the filters on the air conditioner.”

I laugh. “That’s what I thought you said.” Will is a brilliant computer scientist with ADD tendencies, and his brain is so crammed with facts and information that he’s always forgetting the little things…just usually not during sex. I attribute it to an unusually busy time at work combined with the fact he’s leaving for a three-day conference in Florida, so his to-do list today is longer than usual. “You can do it this weekend when you’re back.”

“What if it gets warm before then?”

“It’s not supposed to. And even if it does, surely the filters can wait a couple of days.”

“And your car could probably use an oil change. When’s the last time you took it in?”

“I don’t know.”

Will and I split our household duties neatly down gender lines. The cars and house upkeep are his department, the cooking and cleaning are mine. Neither of us much minds the division of labor. College taught me to be a feminist, but marriage has taught me to be practical. Making lasagna is so much more pleasant than cleaning the gutters.

“Check the maintenance receipts, will you? They’re in the glove box.”

“Fine. But what’s with all the sudden chores? Are you bored with me already?”

I feel what I know is Will’s grin sliding up the back of my head. “Maybe this is what all the pregnancy books mean by nesting.”

Joy flares in my chest at the reminder of what we are doing—what we’ve maybe already done—and I twist around to face him. “I can’t be pregnant yet. We’ve only officially been trying for less than twenty-four hours.”

Once last night before dinner, and twice after. Maybe we went a bit overboard in our first official baby-making session, but in our defense, it was our anniversary, and Will’s a classic overachiever.

His eyes gleam with self-satisfaction. If there were space between our bodies for him to beat himself on the chest, he’d probably do it. “I’m pretty sure my guys are strong swimmers. You’re probably pregnant already.”

“Doubtful,” I say, even though his words make me more than a little giddy. Will is the practical one in this relationship, the one who keeps a steady head in the face of my Labrador-like optimism. I don’t tell him I’ve already done the math. I’ve already made a study of my cycle, counting out the days since my last period, charting it on an app on my phone, and Will is right. I could very well be pregnant already. “Most people give wool or copper for their seventh anniversary. You gave me sperm.”

He smiles but in a nervous way, that look he gets when he did something he maybe shouldn’t have. “It’s not the only thing.”

“Will…”

Last year, at his insistence, we sank all our savings and a significant chunk of our monthly income into a mortgage that would essentially make us house poor. But, oh, what a house it is. Our dream house, a three-bedroom Victorian on a quiet street in Inman Park, with a wide front porch and original woodwork throughout. We walked through the door, and Will had to have it, even if it meant half the rooms would be empty for the foreseeable future. This was to be a no-present anniversary.

“I know, I know, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to buy you something special. Something so you’ll always remember this moment, when we were still just us two.” He twists around, flicks on the lamp, pulls a small, red box from the drawer in the bedside table and offers it to me with a shy grin. “Happy anniversary.”

Even I know Cartier when I see it. There’s not a speck of dust in that store that doesn’t cost more than we can afford. When I don’t move to open it, Will flips the snap with a thumb and pulls the lid open to reveal three linked bands, one of them glittering with rows and rows of tiny diamonds.

“It’s a trinity ring. Pink for love, yellow for fidelity and white for friendship. I liked the symbolism of three—you, me, and baby-to-be.” I blink back tears, and Will lifts my chin with a finger, bringing my gaze to his. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like it?”

I run a finger over the bright white stones, sparkling against red leather. The truth is, Will couldn’t have chosen a better piece. The ring is simple, sophisticated, stunning. Exactly what I would pick out for myself, if we had all the money in the world to spend, which we don’t.

And yet I want this ring so much more than I should—not because it’s beautiful or expensive, but because Will put so much thought into picking it out for me.

“I love it, but…” I shake my head. “It’s too much. We can’t afford it.”

“It’s not too much. Not for the mother of my future baby.” He tugs the ring from the box, slides it up my finger. It’s cool and heavy and fits perfectly, hugging the skin below my knuckle like it was made for my hand. “Give me a little girl who looks just like you.”

My gaze roams over the planes and angles of my husband’s face, picking out all my favorite parts. The thin scar that slashes through his left eyebrow. That bump at the bridge of his nose. His broad, square jaw and thick, kissable lips. His eyes are sleepy and his hair is mussed and his chin is scratchy with stubble. Of all his habits and moods, of all the sides of him I’ve come to know, I love him most when he’s like he is now: sweet, softhearted, rumpled.

I smile at him through my tears. “What if it’s a boy?”

“Then we’ll keep going until I get my girl.” He follows this up with a kiss, a long, lingering press of his lips to mine. “Do you like the ring?”

“I love it.” I wind my arm up and around his neck, the diamonds winking above his shoulder. “It’s perfect, and so are you.”

He grins. “Maybe we should get in one more practice run before I go, just in case.”

“Your flight leaves in three hours.”

But his lips are already kissing a trail down my neck, his hand already sliding lower and lower still. “So?”

“So it’s raining. Traffic’s going to be a bitch.”

He rolls me on to my back, pinning my body to the bed with his. "Then we better hurry."

Chapter Two

Tuition at Lake Forrest Academy, the exclusive K-12 in a leafy suburb of Atlanta where I work as school counselor, is a whopping $24,435 per year. Assuming for a five percent inflation, thirteen years in these hallowed halls will cost you more than four hundred grand per child, and that's before they step even one foot on a college campus. Our students are the sons and daughters of surgeons and CEOs, of bankers and entrepreneurs, and syndicated news anchors and professional athletes. They are a privileged and elite tribe, and the most fucked-up group of kids you could ever imagine.

I push through the double doors at a little past ten--a good two hours late thanks to Will's not-so-quickie and a nail in my tire on the way--and head down the carpeted hallway. The building is quiet, the kind of quiet it can only be when the students are in class huddled behind their brand new MacBooks. I've arrived in the middle of third period, so no need to rush.

When I come around the corner, I'm not all that surprised to find a couple of juniors gathered in the hallway outside my office door, their heads bent over their electronics. The students know I have an open-door policy, and they use it often.

And then more come out of the classroom across the hall, their voices rising in excitement, and the alarm I hear in them sticks my soles to the carpet. "What's going on? Why aren't you guys in class?"

Ben Wheeler looks up from his iPhone. "A plane just crashed. They're saying it took off from Hartsfield."

Terror clutches my chest, and my heart stops. I steady myself on a locker. "What plane? Where?"

He lifts a scrawny shoulder. "Details are sketchy."

I shove through the cluster of students and leap behind my desk, reaching with shaking hands for my mouse. "Come on, come on," I whisper, jiggling my computer out of its deep-sleep hibernation. My mind spins with what I can remember of Will's flight details. He's been in the air for over thirty minutes by now, likely roaring somewhere near the Florida border. Surely--surely- -the crashed plane can't be the one with him on it. I mean, what are the odds? Thousands of planes take off from the Atlanta airport every day, and they don't just fall from the sky. Surely everybody got off safely.

"Mrs. Griffith, are you okay?" Ava, a wispy sophomore, says from my doorway, and her words barely cleave through the roaring in my ears.

After an eternity, my internet browser loads and I type the address for CNN with stiff and clumsy fingers. And then I pray. Please, God, please don't let it be Will's.

The images that fill my screen a few seconds later are horrifying. Jagged chunks of a plane ripped apart by explosion, a charred field dotted with smoking debris. The worst kind of crash, the kind where no one survives.

"Those poor people," Ava whispers from right above my head.

Nausea rises, burning the back of my throat, and I scroll down until I see the flight details. Liberty Airlines Flight 23. Air bursts out of me in a loud whoosh, and relief turns my bones to slush.

Ava drapes a tentative hand across my shoulder blades. "Mrs. Griffith, what’s wrong? What can I do?"

"I'm fine." The words come out half-formed and breathless, like my lungs still haven't gotten the memo. I know I should feel sick for Flight 23's passengers and their families, for those poor people blown to bits above a Missouri corn field, for their families and friends who are finding out like I did, on social media and these awful pictures on their screens, but instead I feel only relief. Relief rushes through me like a Valium, strong and swift and sublime. "It wasn't Will's plane."

"Who's Will?"

I brush both hands over my cheeks and try to breathe away the panic, but it fights to stay close. "My husband." My fingers are still shaking, my heart still racing, no matter how many times I tell myself it wasn't Will's plane. "He's on his way to Orlando."

Her eyes go wide. "You thought your husband was on that plane? Jeez, no wonder you just melted down."

"I didn't melt down, I just..." I press a palm to my chest, haul a deep, cleansing breath. "For the record, my reaction was not out of proportion to the situation. Tremendous fear like the kind I experienced produces a sharp spike in adrenaline, and the body responds. But I'm fine now. I'll be fine."

Talking about it out loud, putting my physiological response into scientific terms, loosens something in my chest, and the throbbing in my head slows to an occasional thud. Thank God, it wasn't Will's plane.

"Hey, I'm not judging. I've seen your husband. Totally smoking." She tosses her backpack onto the floor, sinks into the corner chair, and crosses legs that are far too bare for uniform regulations. Like every other girl in this school, Ava rolls her skirt waistband until the hemline reaches hooker heights. Her gaze dips to my right hand, still pressed to my pounding chest. "Nice ring, by the way. New?"

I drop my hand onto my lap. Of course Ava would notice the ring. She probably knows exactly what it costs, too. I ignore the compliment, focusing instead on the first half of her reply. "When have you seen my husband?"

"On your Facebook page." She grins. "If I woke up next to him every morning, I'd be late to work, too."

I give her a reprimanding look. "As much as I'm enjoying this conversation, shouldn't you be getting back to class?"

Her pretty pink lips curl into a grimace. Even frowning, Ava is a gorgeous girl. Painfully, hauntingly beautiful. Big, blue eyes. Peaches-and-cream skin. Long, shiny auburn curls. She's smart, too, and wickedly funny when she wants to be. She could have any boy in this school...and she has. Ava is not picky, and if I’m to believe Twitter, she’s an easy conquest.

"I'm skipping Lit," she says, spitting out the words in a tone usually reserved for toddlers. I give her my psychologist's smile, friendly and non-judgmental. "Why?"

She sighs and rolls her eyes. "Because I'm avoiding any enclosed spaces where Charlotte Wilbanks and I have to breathe the same air. She hates me, and let me assure you, the feeling is mutual."

"Why do you think she hates you?" I ask, even though I already know the answer. Former best friends, Charlotte and Ava's feud is long and well-documented. Whatever sparked their hatred all those years ago is by now long forgotten, buried under a million offensive and tasteless Tweets that take 'mean girl' to a whole new level. According to what I saw fly by in yesterday's feed, their latest tiff revolves around their classmate Adam Nightingale, son of country music legend Toby Nightingale. This past weekend, pictures surfaced of Ava and Adam canoodling at a neighborhood juice bar.

"Who the hell knows? Because I'm prettier, I guess." She picks at her perfect nail polish, a bright yellow gel that looks like it was painted on yesterday.

Like most of the kids in this school, Ava's parents give her everything her heart could ever desire. A brand-new convertible, first-class trips to exotic locations, a Platinum AmEx card and their blessing. But showering their daughter with gifts is not the same as giving her attention, and if they were the ones sitting across from me, I’d encourage them to set a better example. Ava's mother is an Atlanta socialite with the remarkable ability to look the other way every time Ava's father, a plastic surgeon touted around town as 'The Breast Guy,' is caught groping a girl half his age, which is often.

My education has taught me to see nature and nurture as equal propositions, but my job has taught me nurture wins out every time. Especially when it's lacking. The more messed up the parents, the more messed up the kid. It's really that simple.

But I also believe that everyone, even the worst parents and the most maladjusted kids, has a redeeming quality. Ava's is because she can't help herself. Her parents have made her to be this way.

"I'm sure if you give it a bit more thought, you could come up with a better reason why Charlotte might be--"

"Knock, knock." The head of the upper school, Ted Rawlings, fills up my doorway. Long and lanky and with a crown of tight, dark curls, Ted reminds me of a standard poodle, one who's serious about pretty much everything except his ties. He must have hundreds of the hideous things, always school-themed and always ridiculous, but on him somehow only look charming. Today's version is a bright yellow polyester covered in physics equations. "I take it you've heard about the plane crash."

I nod, my gaze flitting to the images on my screen. Those poor people. Their poor families.

"Somebody at this school is going to know somebody on that plane," Ava says. "You just wait."

Her words skitter a chill down my spine, because she's right. Atlanta is a big city but a small town, one where the degrees of separation tend to be short. The chance that someone here is connected in some way to one of the victims isn't small. I suppose the best thing I can hope for is that it's not a family member or close friend.

"The students are anxious," Ted says. "Understandably so, of course, but I don't think we'll get any classroom work done today. With your help, though, I'd like to turn this tragedy into a different kind of learning opportunity for everyone. Create a safe place for our students to talk about what happened and to ask questions. And if Miss Campbell here is correct, that

someone at Lake Forrest lost a loved-one in the crash, we'll already be in place to provide whatever moral support they need."

"That sounds like a great idea."

"Excellent. I'm glad you're on board. I'll call a town hall meeting in the auditorium, and you and I will tag-team the discussion."

"Of course. Just give me a minute or two to pull myself together, and I'll be right there."

Ted raps a knuckle on the door and hustles off. With Lit class officially cancelled, Ava picks up her backpack, rifling through it for a few seconds while I dig a compact out of my desk drawer.

"Here," she says, dumping a fistful of designer makeup tubes onto my desk. Chanel, Nars, YSL, Mac. "No offense, but you look like need them way more than I do." She softens her words with a blinding smile.

"Thanks, Ava. But I have my own makeup."

But Ava doesn't pick up the tubes. She shifts from foot to foot, one hand wringing the strap of her backpack. She bites her lip and glances at her oxford shoes, and I think under all that bluster and bravado, she might actually be shy. "I'm really glad it wasn't your husband's plane."

The relief this time is a slow build, wrapping me in warmth like Will's sleeping body did just this morning. It settles over me like sunshine on naked skin. "Me, too."

As soon as she's gone, I reach for my phone, pulling up the number for Will's cell. I know he can't pick up for another hour or so, but I need to hear his voice, even if it's only a recording. My muscles unwind at the smooth, familiar sound.

This is Will Griffith's voicemail...

I wait for the beep, sinking back in my chair.

"Hey, babe, it's me. I know you're still in the air, but a plane just crashed after taking off from Hartsfield, and for about fifteen terrifying seconds I thought it might have been yours, and I just needed to...I don't know, hear for myself that you're okay. I know it's silly, but call me as soon as you land, okay? The kids are kind of freaked so I'll be in a town hall, but I promise I'll pick up. Okay, gotta run, but talk to you soon. You're my very favorite person, and I miss you already."

I drop my phone into my pocket and head for the door, leaving Ava’s makeup where she dumped it, in a pile on my desk.

Chapter Three

Seated next to me on the auditorium stage, Ted smooths a hand down his tie and speaks to the room filled with high-schoolers. "As you all know, Liberty Air Flight 23 traveling from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Seattle, Washington, crashed a little over an hour ago. All one hundred and seventy-nine passengers are presumed dead. Men, women, and children, people just like you and me. I've called us here so we can talk about it as a group, openly and honestly and without judgment. Tragedies like this one can make us all too aware of the dangers in our world. Of our own vulnerabilities, of just how fragile life can be. This room is a safe space for us to ask questions and cry and whatever else you need to do to process. Let us all agree that what happens in this auditorium stays in this auditorium."

Any other head of high school would hold a school-wide moment of silence and tell the kids to get back to work. Ted knows that for teenagers, catastrophe takes precedence over calculus any day, and it’s because he sees everything, good or bad, as a learning opportunity that the students follow him without question.

I look out over the 300 or so kids that make up Lake Forrest's high-school student body, as far as I can tell split pretty solidly down the middle--half the students are freaked by the images of an airplane filled with their maybe-neighbors falling from the sky, the other half giddy at an entire afternoon of cancelled classes. Their excited chatter echoes through the cavernous space.

One girl's voice rises to the top. "So this is kind of like group therapy?"

"Well..." Ted sends me a questioning look, and I dip my head in a nod. If there's one realm Lake Forrest students feel comfortable navigating, it's therapy, group or otherwise. Ours are the type of kids who have their therapists' cells on speed dial. "Yes. Exactly like group therapy."

Now that they know what's coming, the students seem to relax, crossing their arms and slumping back into their plush seats.

"I heard it was terrorists," someone calls out from the back of the auditorium. "That ISIS has already come out and said they did it."

Jonathan Vanderbeek, a senior about to graduate by the skin of his teeth, twists around in his front-row stool. "Who told you that, Sarah Palin?"

"Kylie Jenner just retweeted it."

"Brilliant," Jonathan says, snorting. "Because the Kardashians are experts when it comes to our nation's security."

"Okay, okay," Ted says, calling everyone back to order with a few taps to the microphone. "Let's not escalate the situation by repeating rumors and conjecture. Now I've been watching the news carefully, and beyond the fact that a plane crashed, there really is no news. Nobody has said why the plane crashed, or who was on it when it did. Not until they've contacted

the next of kin." His last three words--next of kin--hit the room like a firebomb. They hang in the air, hot and heavy, for a second or two. "And moving forward, let's all agree that there are more credible news sources than Twitter, shall we?"

A snicker comes from the front row.

Ted shakes his head in silent reprimand. "Now. Mrs. Griffith has a few things she'd like to say, and then she'll be leading us in a discussion. In the meantime, I'll be watching the CNN website on my laptop, and as soon as the airline releases any new information, I'll pause the conversation and read it aloud so we'll all have the same up-to-date information. Does that sound like a good plan?"

Nods all around. Ted passes me the mic.

***

I wish I could say I spent the next few hours staring at my phone, watching for Will's call, but at seventy-six minutes post-crash, only ten minutes into our discussion and a good fifteen before the airline was scheduled to make its first official statement, CNN reports that the Wells Academy high-school lacrosse team, all 16 of them and their coaches, were among the one 179 victims. Apparently, they were on their way to a mid-season tournament.

"Omigod. How can that be? We just played them last week."

"Last week, you idiot. You just said so yourself. Which means they had plenty of time between then and this morning to get on a plane."

"You're the idiot, idiot. I'm talking about how we lost the game that won Wells a tournament spot. Do the math."

"Hold up," I say, the words slicing through the auditorium before the argument can escalate further. "Disbelief is a normal reaction to news of a friend’s death, but anger and sarcasm are not good coping mechanisms, and I’m pretty sure every one of y’all in here knows it.”

The kids exchange contrite looks and slump deeper into their seats.

“Look, I get that it’s easy to hide behind negative emotions rather than confront what a close call our friends and fellow students had,” I say, my tone softening. “But it’s okay for you to be confused or sad or shocked or even vulnerable. These are all normal reactions to such shocking news, and having an open and honest conversation will help all of us work through our feelings. Okay? Now. I bet Caroline here isn't the only one here thinking back to the last time she saw one of the Wells players. Was anyone else at the game?"

One by one, hands go up, and the students begin talking. Most of the accounts are no more relevant than same field, same time, but it's clear the kids are spooked by the proximity, especially the lacrosse players. If they had won that game, if Lake Forrest had been the school with a slot in that tournament, it could have just as easily been our students on that plane. Corralling the conversation takes every bit of my concentration until just after one, when we break for a late lunch.

The students file out, and I pull my phone from my pocket, frowning at the still empty screen. Will landed over an hour ago, and he still hasn't called, hasn't texted, hasn't anything. Where the hell is he?

Ted drapes a palm over my forearm. "Everything okay?"

"What? Oh, yes. I'm just waiting on a call from Will. He flew to Orlando this morning."

Ted's eyes go huge, and his cheeks quiver in sympathy. "Well, that certainly explains your expression when I came to your office earlier. You must have had quite a scare."

"Yes, and poor Ava bore the brunt of it." I waggle my phone in the air between us. "I'm just going to see if I can't track him down."

"Of course, of course. Go."

I skitter off the stage and up the center aisle, pulling up Will's number before I've stepped through the double doors. Lake Forrest is set up like a college campus, with a half-dozen ivy- covered buildings spread across an acre campus, and I take off down the flagstone path that leads to the high-school building. The rain has stopped, but leaden clouds still hang low in the sky and an icy wind whips chill bumps over my skin. I pull my sweater tight around my chest and hustle up the stairs to the double doors, pushing into the warmth right as Will's cell shoots me to voicemail.

Dammit.

While I wait for the beep, I give myself a pep-talk. I tell myself not to worry. That there's a simple explanation for why he hasn't called. The past few months have been particularly stressful at work and he hasn’t been sleeping well. Maybe he’s taking a nap. And the man is easily distracted, a typical techie who can never seem to focus on one thing at a time. I imagine him punching in my number, then forgetting to push send. I picture him hobnobbing with conference bigwigs by the hotel pool, oblivious to the buzzing phone in his hand. Or maybe it's as simple as his battery died, or he forgot his cell on the plane. I think of all these things, and I can almost taste the joy.

"Hey, sweetie," I say into the phone, trying not to let the worry seep into my tone. "Just wanted to check in and make sure all is well. You should be at your hotel by now, but I guess the reception in your room is crappy or something. Anyway, when you get a second, call me. This crash has got me a little antsy, and I really want to hear your voice. Okay, talk soon. You're my very favorite person."

In my office, I head straight for my computer and pull up my email program. Will sent me the conference details months ago, but there are more than three thousand emails in my inbox and no good system for organizing them. After a bit of searching, I find the email I'm looking for:

From: w.griffith@appsec-consulting.com
To: irisgriffith@lakeforrestacademy.org
Subject: FW: Cyber Security for Critical Assets: An Intelligence Summit

Check me out! I'm Thursday's keynote speaker. Let's just hope they don't all fall asleep, kind of like you do whenever I talk about work. xo

Will M. Griffith
Sr. Software Engineer AppSec Consulting, Inc.

My skin tingles with relief, and I feel vindicated. The words are right here, in black and white. Will is in Orlando, safe and sound.

I click on the attachment, and a full-page conference flyer opens. Will's headshot is about halfway down, next to a blurb advertising his expertise on all things access risk management. I hit print and scribble the name of the conference hotel on a post-it note, then return to my internet browser for the telephone number. I'm copying it down when my phone rings, and my mother's face lights up the screen.

A stab of uneasiness pings me in the chest. A speech-pathologist, Mom knows what working in a school environment is like. She knows my days are crazy, and she never disturbs me at work unless there's a life-or-death situation. Like the time Dad hit a pothole with his front bike tire and flipped a three-sixty onto the asphalt, landing so hard he cracked his collarbone and split his helmet clean down the middle. Which is why I answer her call now with, "What's wrong?"

"Oh, sweetheart. I just saw the news."

"About the crash? I know. We've been dealing with it all day here at school. The kids are pretty freaked."

"No, that's not what I meant. Well, not exactly... I meant Will, darling."

Something in the way she says it, in the careful and roundabout way she's asking but not asking about Will, soldiers every hair on my body to attention. "What about him?"

"Well, for starters, where is he?"

"In Orlando for a conference. Why?"

The force of Mom's sigh into the speaker pierces my eardrum, and I know how much she's been holding back. "Oh, thank God. I knew it couldn't be your Will."

"What are you talking about? Who couldn't be my Will?"

Her reply gets buried under a student’s loud interruption. "Mr. Rawlings told me to tell you they just released a list of names." She screams the words into my office, as if I'm not sitting right here, three feet away, and on the phone. I shush her and shoo her off with a hand.

"Mom, start over. Who's not my Will?"

"The William Matthew Griffith they're saying was on that plane."

Not my husband bubbles up from the very core of me, from somewhere deep and primitive. My Will was on a different plane, on a whole different airline even. And even if he wasn't, Liberty Airlines would have already called. They wouldn't have released his name without notifying me--his wife, his very favorite person on the planet--first.

But before I can tell my mother any of these things, my phone beeps with another call, and the words on the screen stop my heart.

Liberty Airlines.

#

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